Night Crawler

Sunday night on the Trocadero stage Miss Birdie & the Love Bugs strut their stuff and adjust their wigs while performing a loungy version of "Tequila." The disco balls rotate lazily, throwing stars across an eye-catching drag queen in a fur-rimmed gown. She's spiraling around a gentleman doing a diminutive Pee-wee Herman two-step. At the surrounding tables staid voyeurs clap between mouthfuls of stuffed mushrooms and chicken wings; meanwhile, the veteran drag queens who have gathered for the Klubstitute Kollective's Virgin Drag Queen Contest attempt to find comfortable places to lean with proper composure. MC Ruby Toosday and reigning faux queen Coca Dietetica exchange some soft banter and then introduce each of the 12 competing virgins.

"Oh, it's so hard that first time," recalls a 6-foot-2-inch redhead, watching the awkward parade of contestants. "You can tell immediately who's a natural and who should just hang up their slip."

The contest is open to all first-time queens who have Drag Mothers to sponsor them. Because there are no gender restrictions or orientation biases at Klubstitute, tonight's competition boasts Jenny B., a woman who can't remember the last time she was in a dress, and two married men who have been long associated with the club but never dressed for the occasion. Although fashion shows by Black Iris Gallery and Vampire Technology are ample entertainment, the real theater lies within the inner sanctum of the dressing room.

"Why must they call us Drag Mothers?" demands veteran Billie de Herrera, throwing an arm around her prodigy, the lovely, small-boned Erica Candy Cane. "Why not Drag Sisters, huh?" she continues, turning her shorn head so that her crystal earrings catch the hue of her red chiffon gown. At the back of the room a queen spins toward a nearby acquaintance: "In your case, honey, it would have to be Drag Grandmother." Appropriate titters ensue.

Hatboxes, wig stands, makeup cases, and dresses of all shapes, sizes, and gaudiness levels lie strewn throughout the dressing area. It is exactly like being backstage at a big audition. Some Mothers coddle their Daughters with little coos of encouragement, while others use a stern hand to prevent wrinkled clothing or smudged mascara.

"Stage mothers are all the same," sighs a lavender number who is busy fanning herself under the hot makeup lamps. "They want to win. It's as much about their own glory as it is their Daughters'. The Daughters have to win because the Mothers are washed up."

Some do it out of love. Connie Champagne, singer for the New Morty Show and longtime Klubstitute affiliate, sits on the couch (a privilege afforded female drag queens) where she reassures her Daughter, Hernan Cortez.

"Hernan is usually behind the scenes running sound for Klubstitute," explains Champagne, who last year lost the Faux Queen Contest to "that bitch Coca Dietetica."

Among the other entries is Connie Champagne's husband, Damian Monzillo, who was first introduced to Champagne by the late, great founder of Klubstitute, Diet Popstitute. Although Monzillo has never dressed in drag before, he is the hands-down favorite for tonight's competition.

"I couldn't be his Drag Mother," laughs Champagne. "It would have been too incestuous. You know, being both wife and Mother. No way."

Nearby, the bare-chested Monzillo stands at the center of a queen coven with his hands clasped demurely in front of him and his feet spread slightly for support. Monzillo looks serene -- a professional starlet quite at home being the center of attention.

"I'm just trying to relax," he says, calmly watching as other virgins finger their frocks in agitation.

As per instructions from Arthur, Monzillo's makeup perfectionist and co-worker at 77 Maiden Lane, Monzillo bats his long fake eyelashes while his Drag Mothers Trauma Flintstone and Fennel Skellyman work out appropriate answers for the Virgin Drag Queen questionnaire.

" 'Who are your drag queen idols?' "
"Jello Biafra, Juanita More, and my wife, Connie Champagne."
" 'If you win, how will you help bring about world peace?' "

"My beauty has a calming effect on everything I touch. I am world-peace personified."

Mateo, a pouty boy with shoulder-length blond hair and a tight black vest, stands within arm's reach of Arthur. Occasionally he holds a cigarette to Arthur's lips as the drag beautician transforms Monzillo into Putanesca Jones. Mateo takes a wander around, surveying the land for competition. He finds Champagne in the back room stripped down to her bra and up to her elbows in face paint as she works her magic on Cortez. Mateo passes by Billie de Herrera as she stuffs a fanny pad into Candy Cane's outfit. "That's some booty!" exclaims a slightly buzzed queen on her way over to the bar.

"Don't talk to strangers," warns Herrera before Candy Cane has a chance to respond.

Mateo is perfectly unimpressed. He sidles back to his post at the Monzillo camp.

"I don't know," observes Champagne with a seasoned eye. "Billie de Herrera is a force to be reckoned with. I wouldn't underestimate her."

Of course, Trauma and Fennel are no small potatoes.
"Yes, Damian is in very capable hands," agrees Champagne. "I'm actually really impressed. He looks just like his mother, only prettier." His real mother, she means.

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